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How do I Treat Swelling from Wasp Stings?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are several home remedies for the mild swelling that is very common after a wasp sting. People can bring down the inflammation with a number of household items, including meat tenderizer, toothpaste, baking soda, vinegar, lemon juice, and ice. An over-the-counter antihistamine may also reduce the swelling.

As soon as a person is stung by a wasp, the area should be cleaned using soap and water or alcohol to help prevent infection. Infection after a wasp sting is relatively rare, but it is possible.

After the area is cleaned, many people use meat tenderizer to reduce the swelling from wasp stings. A thick paste of meat tenderizer and water can be applied to the area and left on for about 30 minutes, or until it dries. An enzyme called papain that is present in meat tenderizer is believed to break down the poison and venom of many insects, including wasps and bees. This enzyme is found naturally in papaya, and applying a slice of the fruit on the sting is said to have the same effect.

Another common way to bring down the swelling from wasp stings is to spread toothpaste on the area that was stung. Many people believe toothpaste draws the poison out of the skin as it dries. A thick paste of baking soda and water can also help relieve the swelling. If none of these household items are readily available, mud or wet clay can also be used to cover the area, since it is thought to work in the same manner.

Some people mix either meat tenderizer or baking soda with an acidic solution. Some evidence shows that wetting the area of the sting with a mildly acidic solution, like vinegar or lemon juice, can also help relieve the inflammation. These solutions can help neutralize the effects of the wasp venom, which is a base.

Many medical professionals believe that applying ice is one of the best ways to keep down the swelling from wasp stings. An ice pack, individual ice cubes, or just about anything else that is frozen can be wrapped in a towel and applied over the swollen area. This can be left on for up to 30 minutes. If it is not wrapped in a towel or it is left on any longer, however, the extreme cold can possibly further damage the soft tissues.

Hydrocortisone cream is an over-the-counter medicine often used to treat the itching and swelling from stings. This cream is relatively inexpensive, and it can be usually be purchased at any pharmacy or large chain store. It works by stopping the body from producing substances that cause inflammation. Applying a thin layer of the cream over the wasp sting can help reduce the swelling.

If a person is allergic to wasp stings or bee stings, emergency medical attention is usually required. People with allergies will usually experience trouble breathing, dizziness, and nausea. Dangerous swelling from wasp stings could also occur around the mouth and throat.

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Discussion Comments
By browncoat — On Sep 29, 2013

@Iluviaporos - The way to remember it is that wasp and vinegar start with V and W which are close in the alphabet. And it is true that wasps have alkaline venom. But it isn't the alkaline part that is really causing the pain and swelling. So, I think most of the time the vinegar is more of placebo than anything.

What works best is to use some ice and to take some ibuprofen for the pain and the wasp sting swelling. And if the person has been stung anywhere sensitive (like inside the mouth or nose or ears) or has been stung more than a handful of times, it's probably worth taking them to the emergency room, just in case. Wasp stings can be nasty and even if you don't have an allergic reaction that can be dangerous if the swelling is in the wrong place.

By lluviaporos — On Sep 28, 2013

@bythewell - I read an amazing story once where a child had an allergic reaction to a bee sting and they were rushing her to hospital. Her father realized that she needed more time and he deliberately set out to terrify her in order to give her an adrenaline boost and delay the allergic reaction.

I've often wondered if that could help, although I would have thought a child that sick would already be terrified.

I know that you're supposed to treat wasp stings differently from bee stings but I can never remember which one is supposed to be acidic and which one is alkaline. I suppose, since it says here to use vinegar as a wasp sting treatment, that they must be alkaline, since vinegar is an acid.

By bythewell — On Sep 28, 2013

It is very important to remember, particularly if you have children, that they will often not show any symptoms of an allergy the first time they are stung. What will happen is that the body will overreact the second time, after it recognizes the poison.

So, if your child (or you, yourself) has only been stung one time without a reaction, don't assume that means that they are not allergic. Keep a close eye on them when they get bee and wasp stings so that, if they start to gasp or swell up, you can rush them to an emergency room right away.

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